A Presidential Project

On this inauguration day, January 20, 2021, I am highlighting an important project documenting a historical president. Franklin D. Roosevelt (known by his initials FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States from 1933-1945. He was the architect of the New Deal and the Commander-in-Chief during World War II.

FDR also had a physical disability. In 1921, he contracted polio at age 39 and he became a wheelchair user.

FDR visited wounded veterans while remaining in his wheelchair, but he wore steel leg braces that allowed him to stand at public events.

The FDR Memorial commemorates his leadership during the Great Depression and World War II. However, when it opened in 1997, it did not accurately represent his physical disability.

More than 50 disability organizations from across the country supported the FDR Wheelchair Statue Campaign. Sixteen Roosevelt grandchildren agreed that FDR should be shown as a person with a disability. The FDR Wheelchair Statue was dedicated in 2001.

The FDR Memorial Legacy Committee is a project of the National Council on Independent Living that documents this campaign through an archive of oral histories and media clips.

The announcement of this archive states that:

“The FDR Memorial Legacy Committee (FDR Committee), as part of the DC Community Heritage Project (DCCHP), proudly unveiled the initial archives chronicling the history of the fight for disability representation” that “was led by people with disabilities from 1995-2001.”

Please visit the archive to learn about this important campaign for disability representation.

“During the unveiling event, disability rights advocates Judy Heumann and Dr. I King Jordan reflected on the impact of the campaign to represent FDR as a disabled president and the collective work that still needs to be accomplished to ensure equitable disability representation. Dr. I King Jordan exclaimed, “Disability is not talked about. People talk about diversity, equity, inclusion and disability needs to be included in those conversations. This archive is a visual way to do that.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Jordan’s statement. It was my honor to evaluate the archives for their accessibility, and my privilege to learn about this overlooked aspect of presidential history.

about exhibits publications

2020 in review

In December 2020, as I reflect on the year, I am struck by how completely the closure of physical spaces pushed activity online. My work was no exception. Meetings became conference calls, physical exhibits moved to websites, and in-person conferences were transformed into online presentations.

collaboration was another theme for this year. I am thankful for the contributions of my smart and talented colleagues who contributed to the work that I produced in 2020.

The Unintended Consequences of Current Events

I found myself reflecting on how responses to the coronavirus pandemic affected people with disabilities. Here are essays that I wrote with colleagues for an online exhibit called

Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility

The Interconnectedness of Covid-19 to Discrimination Against The Disabled

Bearing Witness to The Ableism Embedded Within The Pandemic

Covid-19 and Museums

A major theme of 2020 as finding ways to safeguard access to touch objects.

In this post written for the American Alliance of Museums, colleagues and I strongly recommend that museums produce re-usable tactile handouts so that individuals can borrow their own touch objects.

Staying In Touch Addressing Concerns to Allow Tactile Exploration at Museums

This post summarizes a presentation about accessible touch objects.

MCN-2020 Presentation Accessible Touch Objects

Here is another essay that I wrote for the Redefine/ABLE exhibit about tactile art before and during a pandemic.

Please Do Touch The Art

Documenting the Museum Experiences of people who are blind

Early in 2020, I presented work about museum exhibits before the pandemic. As far off as that seems now, there are still valuable data for making improvements when physical museums re-open.

Assessing Attitudes of Blind Adults About Museums

Bring Your Own Device BYOD Programming Facilitates Accessibility For People Who Are Blind Or Have Low Vision

Here is an article that Jo Morrison wrote summarizing the papers included in our MuseWeb 2020 conference panel.

Voice User Interfaces And Multi-modal Accessibility

Finally, 2020 saw the release of one of our papers that was delayed in the publication process.

Designing a portable museum display of Native American stone projectile points (arrowheads) to ensure accessibility and tactile quality.

3D-printing accessibility exhibits research

MCN 2020 Presentation, Accessible Touch Objects

Last week, I gave a presentation on accessible touch objects in partnership with my colleague Lauren Race from the NYU Ability Project. Our talk was part of the MCN2020 virtual conference. Here are the highlights and links for further reading.

Defining the problem

Most information at museums and historic sites is presented visually, but some people learn through tactile exploration. For accessibility, we need to be considering all senses when presenting information at museums.

Yet, tactile access has faced looming threats, notably the lack of expertise and funding, before Covid-19, and the current pandemic is accelerated these issues.

Some museums have responded to Covid-19 by closing hands-on exhibits with tactile components. For example, the Please Touch Museum extended its closure into 2021.

Knowing that touch objects are threatened, it is important to determine which are worth saving in the future.

Summarizing the research

Lauren described interviews that she conducted with 15 museum access specialists from art museums and historic sites across the United States. Then she considered common themes from their responses in conversations with 6 accessibility experts who are blind or have lo vision.

There are 4 findings.

•            1. Tactile experiences must be preserved

•            2. They should be consistently created

•            3. They read as infantile when poorly-crafted

•            4. They cannot be replaced by audio (verbal description) or digital-only solutions. People who are blind receive touchless experiences secondhand, filtered through the observations of a sighted person.


We made the following recommendations.

•Tactile experiences must be preserved

•Digital fabrication over poorly-designed techniques

•Provide tactually accurate reproductions

•Choose materials that can withstand frequent cleaning

•Establish tactile design guidelines

For my section of the presentation, I discussed ways to preserve tactile access despite Covid-19. I described my other projects that complimented Lauren’s interview findings.

People are problem solving in the moment. When the pandemic began, I had ongoing conversations with tactile artists about ways to safeguard tactile access.

Two colleagues, Ann Cunningham, and Matt Gesualdi and I identified specific examples drawn from our work that we proposed as models for safe practices during the Covid-19 pandemic. We described this work in a blog post for the American Alliance of Museums.

Staying in touch: addressing concerns to allow tactile exploration at museums

 I will summarize with this quote.

“We imagine a scenario where visitors could borrow tactile handouts, use them for reference as they tour an exhibit, and then return them to the museum for treatment and later re-use.”

That blog post included photos of small- and large-scale examples of tactile handouts. At small scale, the 3D-printed replica of a stone spear point can be manipulated with one hand. The attached wooden coin is a QR code that when scanned directs a smartphone to read more information about it such as might be found on an exhibit label.

At larger scale, people can be encouraged to maintain physical distance as they explore separate tactile panels. This idea is loosely based on an interactive art installation titled “Mission to Nocterra,” created by Matt Gesualdi. He incorporated use of antibacterial wipes into the exhibit with a story line that the puzzles were alien artifacts that must be protected from human germs.

Highly-skilled tactile artists can create accurate tactile reproductions using hand-crafted techniques. These individuals plan and construct their work very carefully and they account for scale and accuracy. With questions of high-fidelity in mind, we ranked different techniques by their cost in the same blog post.

Returning to Lauren’s interview findings, we recommend digital fabrication methods such as 3D printing over poorly-designed, hand-crafted techniques. In our opinion, digital fabrications are preferred for the accuracy of tactile reproductions. This is contrasted with the analog nature of most poorly-designed tactile objects that her interview findings indicated were produced by interns or volunteers with no training in tactile design.

Due to Covid-19 and safety concerns, we recommend fabricating touch objects from materials that can withstand frequent cleaning. This would favor plastic or acrylic resin commonly used to fabricate 3D-printed replicas.

We mentioned other work that supports accessible touch objects. Fortunately, we are not the only people seeking ways to safely conduct tactile exploration. Here is an international example.

Tactile Studio posted their proposed solutions including the development of a tactile sanitation station for touch objects.

I am encouraged by these proposed solutions because the work to preserve access to tactile objects in museum exhibits is ongoing and it will require sustained efforts in the Covid-19 era and beyond.

about accessibility

user journey to building a website

I created MuseumSenses last year, but I added most of its’ content after the Covid-19 pandemic started. Since many of us are spending a lot of time online now, I decided to write this post to draw back the curtain and reveal the process of creating a website and sharing content from it to my social media feeds.

##Step 1: Choose a Domain

Most people are familiar with common domains like .com, .org, and .edu, but there are other options. A domain name is the internet equivalent of a street address and purchasing a web domain is like buying a vacant lot. Just as titles are registered to property owners, domain names are assigned to the users who purchased them. There are directories of registered domains, and searching these sites is the best way to determine if a name is for sale.

##Step 2: Choose a Web Hosting Service

Creating the website that will appear when a domain name is entered into the address bar of a browser is like constructing a building on a vacant lot. Selecting a web hosting service is like commissioning an architect to design a building, and then hiring a construction company to build it. I suggest that anyone wishing to build a website should carefully evaluate the various web hosting services because they differ in features and pricing. Some services combine domain registration with hosting.

Creating a website that is accessible to all users, including people with disabilities, is like building ramps and stairs to enter the house. This article is a great overview of common accessibility problems.

benefits to accessible design

Designing sites to be accessible can save time and money when compared to retrofitting them for accessibility later.

##Step 3: Creating Content

Creating content is the most enjoyable part of building a website. It is like moving into a new house, painting the walls, and arranging the furniture. The content on a website is accessible if it complies with guidelines set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Some considerations when designing an accessible site include:

•            text color contrast

•            properly-labelled buttons and edit boxes

•            heading structure

•            alt tags (improves accessibility and search engine optimization (seo)

There are many more considerations, and I suggest that before people design a website, they should familiarize themselves with any accessibility guidelines provided by the web hosting service(s) that they are thinking of using. For example, this is a WordPress site, and accessibility information from WordPress can be found at this link.

##Step 4: Sharing content

There are scheduling tools that will automate the sharing of content from a website to specific social media accounts. To extend the comparison of domain and street address one last time, This process is like leaving a forwarding address at the post office to send mail to a new location.

As with websites, it is important to be mindful of accessibility considerations when creating and sharing social media posts. 

twitter link

I will finish this post with a word of caution about comments online. When I launched this site, I set comments to require my approval. I was bombarded with spam and messages to visit porn sites. That is why I always turn off commenting on my posts and pages. If you wish to reach me, please use the links in the social menu found on every page.

3D-printing accessibility

Tactile Access and The 3D-printing Process

This post discusses the 3D printing process and its potential to enhance tactile experience for blind people. There is a critical resource shortage where tactile graphics are concerned, and 3D printing is a technology that can help to bridge the gap. I strongly encourage the interested reader to access the resources linked here for more details.

Robert Jaquis Writing in the Braille Monitor (April 2012), explained the problem this way. “Sighted students have access to a wide variety of images in books, videos, and the Internet, but blind students must rely on text or verbal descriptions or the occasional tactile graphic.”

He explained that tactile 3-dimensional replicas are particularly useful for conveying the shape of exceedingly small, or extremely large, objects. I strongly agree with this statement.

Once, I examined a 3D-printed replica of the DNA helix. It was about 2 inches long, and I held the replica in one hand tracing the spiral shape with the fingers of my other hand. In that moment, I finally understood the description of the DNA molecule as a “twisted ladder”.

I am sure that I had read or heard the words “spiral” and “ladder” used to describe the structure of the DNA molecule before examining the 3D-printed replica. However, I did not intuitively make the connection between the description of the DNA molecule and the physical spiral shape of the double helix until I had time to explore a tactile representation of it.

I will return to this powerful idea near the end of this post. For now, I will discuss the 3D printing process and link to examples of projects that can increase tactile access for blind people.

An Overview of the 3D-Printing Process

There are three steps to producing a 3D-printed replica of an object.

•            Scanning the physical object and saving data in a digital file

•            Creating a 3D model of the object

•            Sending the 3D model to a printer that creates a physical replica of the object

In this process, a physical object is converted into a digital model that can be viewed on a screen. Tactile access can only be achieved by sending the 3D model to a 3D printer that produces a physical replica of the object.

Many individuals and organizations have completed the first two steps of the process—scanning objects and using that data to create 3D models of the scanned objects. The models can be viewed online or downloaded to be sent to a 3D printer.

Check out my post about finding 3D models on the web.

Notes About the Accessibility Challenges of Using 3D Modelling Software

Computer-aided design (CAD) software lets people create   3D models.

In some instances, blind people who access computers with screen readers, that provide voice output, can access features of these CAD software packages from a text-based command line.

For example, OpenScad is a free software package for creating 3D models. Claire Kearney-Volpe  created this curriculum that shows how some features of the software package can be used with a screen reader.

Here is another useful resource for learning OpenScad. link

However, researchers at Stanford’s Shape lab wrote this paper Explaining one drawback to using OpenScad.  Although The program has a text-based command line for inputting measurements, the output is displayed as a visual graphic on a computer screen. These researchers prototyped a design in which a blind person receives a tactile representation of the model on a refreshable braille display connected to the computer.

The team at Tactile Universe uses a different CAD software package called Blender to create and print their 3D models. Read these technical blog posts to learn more about their process.

A quick google search indicates that people can create 3D models in Blender using the python programming language. Read this manual for instructions.

Not all cad software packages have functionality with a screen reader. In my opinion, Tinkercad  is not accessible because there are many unlabeled buttons on the home page. The designers did not label their buttons properly with alt-text, and so I did not create an account or evaluate their 3D modelling tools.

Printing 3D Models and Creating Physical Objects

Blind people benefit from the last stage of the process when a 3D model becomes a physical object that can be touched.

To do this, the 3D model is exported to a stereolithographic (STL) file that contains detailed instructions for the material to be extruded by the printer.

Here is a step-by-step guide for exporting a 3D model into an stl file.

Here are two more examples of how 3D printing can be used to increase tactile access for blind people.

Mike kolitsky wrote this paper that showed how 3D printing can be used to create physical replicas of digital learning objects, so blind students can have access to visual material presented online as images. Examples of 3D Prints made from 2D photos are at the end of his paper.

More recently, two co-authors and I wrote a paper describing another way to access information about 3D replicas. We attached QR codes to 3D-printed replicas of stone projectile points (arrowheads). Scanning these QR codes with a smartphone prompted the user to access a webpage with more information about each projectile point.

I know that many people are exploring the educational benefits of 3D-printing, and I expect to learn of other projects in the future. Meanwhile, I hope that the resources that I have gathered here will be useful in this endeavor.

3D-printing accessibility exhibits publications research

Designing an Exhibit of 3D-Printed Replicas

I’m pleased to announce the publication of Designing a portable museum display of Native American stone projectile points (arrowheads) to ensure accessibility and tactile quality written with Joe Nicoli and Donald Winiecki  in the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research.

We describe making 3D-printed replicas of artifacts found in the collections of the Maryland Archaeological and Conservation Laboratory. Then we prototyped a design that attached QR codes to the replicas by a lanyard.

Scanning these QR codes with a smartphone prompted the user to access a webpage with more information about each artifact. Participants at a Tactile graphics conference were successful in scanning the QR code with their smartphones and following the link to the associated webpage.

I also included this project in another paper about using smartphones to access information about exhibits. Start by reading this blog post from April 2020 to learn more.


Finding 3D models

This post is part of an ongoing series covering aspects of 3D printing from scanning objects, to creating digital 3D models, and then printing the digital files as physical 3D replicas. As I explored this topic, I collected links to many outstanding resources.

•            People who have access to a 3D printer can browse online libraries for downloadable files.

•            People who do not have access to a 3D printer can check out organizations that will print and ship 3D-printed replicas to them.

online libraries containing digital 3D models

Here is a list of online libraries that offer 3D models downloadable as digital files that can be sent to a 3D printer. Many of these links were recommended by members of the Tactile Art and Graphics Specialist, TAGS mailing list during December 2019. Thanks everyone!

Sites that offer 3D models in multiple categories



My Mini Factory

3D models uploaded by specific organizations

Some organizations maintain online libraries of models that are specific to their area of expertise.

NASA offers printable models of space craft including rockets, rovers, shuttles, and the International Space Station. For more information, read this post about searching the NASA library for a model of the Perseverance Rover.

The Smithsonian 3D digitization database contains models of many different objects from animal skulls to presidential portraits, and much more. The models can be viewed onscreen or downloaded as printable files.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers biomedical 3D printable files and 3D printing resources.

organizations that will print and ship 3D-printed replicas

Some services will print and ship 3D replicas to individuals upon request. The examples below highlight paid, or free, models.

The Shapeways marketplace offers prints searchable by category including jewelry, phone cases, tabletop game accessories and more. The company uses industrial-grade printers and offers models in several types of plastic or other materials like steel, bronze, brass, silver, gold, wax, porcelain, or aluminum.

Kraftwurx Is a company that serves 3D designers. It lets them upload files, specify materials, and order prints that can be sent to their customers.

See3D  is a non-profit organization that organizes the printing and distribution of 3D printed models for people who are blind.

final thoughts

Many organizations maintain online libraries of 3D models. Some make downloadable files available, and others also ship physical 3D-printed replicas. Anyone seeking a specific model can search the sites listed here or search the web for other sources.

accessibility exhibits publications

Please Do Touch The Art

My second essay written for the Redefine/ABLE exhibit is titled Please Do Touch the Art

The essay is a discussion of tactile art. When I wrote the first draft in February 2020, it was about the need for more tactile objects in museums.

Then the coronavirus pandemic started, touching objects became taboo, and that essay required significant revisions. Now, it includes recommendations about safely touching objects in museum exhibits, and it links to a few resources. I offer this essay as a conversation-starter because I plan to revisit this topic in the near future.


Mars 2020 Perseverance and finding 3-D models

This morning I streamed the Mars 2020 Perseverance launch on NASA TV. Just after lift off, they asked one of the scientists to explain the equipment that was attached to the rover, and she pointed out the drilling arm on a 3D-printed replica. Naturally, I wondered how the public, and especially blind people, might be able to get their hands on such a replica.

I collect links to online repositories that store the computer files necessary to produce 3D-printed replicas, so I directed my browser to NASA’s list of printable models.

I sorted the models alphabetically by name and I found the M2020 Model Rover Perseverance. This page includes links to download the print-ready .STL files and assembly directions to create a model of the Perseverance rover.

The NASA repository also includes files for a small helicopter called Ingenuity that is attached to the Perseverance  rover.  It will be flown on MARS sometime after landing in February 2021.

I’m glad that NASA made files available so that anyone with access to a 3-D printer can produce replicas. I realize that not every blind person, or member of the public generally, has access to a 3D printer, and that may be the subject of a future post.

accessibility exhibits publications



During the 2019-2020 academic year, I consulted with the 2020 University of Maryland, College Park graphic design cohort that researched and created an exhibit about disability, ableism, and the benefits of universal design. Ableism is the discrimination against those with disabilities. Universal design counteracts ableism. Universal design is an approach to creating systems, spaces and objects that meet the needs of all people.

Originally designed as a multi-site, cross-platform exhibition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility is now an online experience that addresses diversity, inclusion and ableism. It seeks to engage audiences about the successes and challenges of persons with disabilities in Maryland and beyond.

The Covid-19 pandemic became a discussion topic for this exhibit. The project director and I wrote this essay examining the effects of post-pandemic responses on people with disabilities.

We also submitted this Q&A to another University of Maryland blog.

Additional content will be added to the Redefine/ABLE project website during July and August 2020. It will remain online after that date. I would like to thank the project team for their dedication to this project and their determination to display it virtually.